WASHINGTON — The Republican Party race to fill a House of Representatives leadership position is shaping up as a contest between two established conservatives after a surprise primary election defeat to the Tea Party.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy from California, who is in charge of lining up support for legislation, has not formally announced his intentions but has been asking other lawmakers for support to become majority leader to succeed Eric Cantor, who is stepping down after being rejected by voters in his district.
Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, who chairs the House Rules Committee, has also said he would run in the party’s election for majority leader set for June 19.
Both McCarthy and Sessions have conservative voting records and are close allies of House Speaker John Boehner, who said on Thursday he would back any Republican who wins. Other Republicans could vie for the position, which is the No. 2 job in the chamber.
On Thursday, one leading Texas lawmaker, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, opted out of the race.
Cantor on Wednesday announced his decision to step down on July 31 following his defeat in Tuesday’s primary in a district of Virginia to political rookie and economics professor David Brat, an activist in the Tea Party, which wants to reduce federal government spending and taxes.
Cantor’s loss stunned both Republicans and Democrats, setting up leadership changes for conservatives in the House and cracked open the divide between establishment Republicans and its further-right Tea Party wing.
Cantor said on Wednesday he would back McCarthy if he decided to seek the majority leader job. If McCarthy wins, Republicans would vote on June 19 for his replacement for majority whip as well.
Boehner said he could work with “whoever gets elected.”
“It’s important that we resolve this issue in a fair amount of time,” Boehner told reporters.
Boehner is expected to seek another two-year term in the top spot of that chamber, but that election is still several months off and it assumes Republicans will maintain control of the House in November’s congressional elections.
It is unclear whether he will face a challenge from the more conservative flank of the Republican Party, as he did nearly two years ago.
POLITICO on Thursday reported that Representative Marlin Stutzman of Indiana will run for majority whip. Stutzman’s office did not have any immediate comment on the report.
Republican Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Peter Roskam of Illinois have been lobbying colleagues for the whip’s job.